The Big Cat Photo Safari Of South Luangwa Trip Report
Updated: Mar 9, 2019
This year marked the first Big Cat Photo Safari Of South Luangwa for Armstrong Safaris. 5 guests hosted by myself, spent 7 magical nights at Shenton Safaris Mwamba Bush Camp and Kaingo camp. The 7 nights were jam-packed full of big cat action with no less than 12 leopard sightings and 14 Lion sightings. Along with fantastic sightings or elephants, buffalo and the beautiful Carmine Bee Eaters.
After a night in Lusaka we boarded our flight to Mfuwe (South Luangwa National Park). After a short 1 hour flight we made our way through the national park. Not half and hour into the drive we came across a buffalo carcass covered in vultures. After a few minutes, we quickly discovered the culprits. 3 lion were resting under the shade of a nearby ebony tree. We left the lions and continued to Mwamba Bush Camp.
After a quick camp orientation we climbed aboard our vehicle for our first game drive. This so happened to be our quietest drive of the whole safari with only one brief leopard sighting after dark and plenty of general game. In a way, A nice introduction to the trip, giving my guests time to re-familiarise themselves with their cameras and get a few nice shots under their belts.
Very soon after leaving camp, we came across a hippo that had died in the night. At this time of year it is relatively common for older weaker hippo to die of starvation as they are forced to venture further and further away from the river in search of food. Of course, we were not the first to find the deceased hippo, it seemed that every vulture and hyena from miles around had picked up the scent and had moved in to feast on this "free' meal.
After watching the squabbles between the vultures and hyena, we moved on and were shortly greeted by a truly marvellous spectacle. over 400 buffalo were making their way down to the Luangwa River to drink.
After a busy morning, it was back to camp and a trip to the famous "Last Water Hole Hide" Mwamba's in camp photographic hide. For an hour we enjoyed the coming and going of impala, baboon and elephants.
After a mid day snooze followed by afternoon tea, we headed out of camp to see what was happening at the hippo carcass. More and more scavengers had joined the party and the interaction between the different species was fascinating to watch. As the sun began to set, we let the hyenas and Vultures carry on their feast and found a lovely spot on the river to watch the sun go down.
This was the day when things really got going. We headed straight to the hippo "party" to find that it had been gate crashed by 3 male lions. The hyena and vultures were waiting patiently at a respectful distance as the three boys, bellies full, guarded the carcass.
Due to the lack of activity from the lions we headed off and very shortly came across two other male lions whom, our guide informed us were part of a 4 strong coalition that have recently moved into the area in search of their own new territory. As the sun rose higher in the sky and the temperatures began to soar, the lions were in search of a nice shady spot to rest up for the day. On doing so, they decided to walk right passed our vehicle giving us a very special, close encounter.
After the 2 boys had found their shaded spot for the day, we moved off in the direction of camp with brunch heavily on our minds. It seems we weren't the only ones thinking about food. As we rounded a bend in the road we came across the famous Mwamba Kaingo pride, furiously squabbling over a freshly caught impala, which they must have taken down no more than 30 seconds before we had arrived on the scene. After a ferocious 15 minutes, the impala was gone and the pride began the process of ridding themselves of blood from their late morning snack.
We thought we were done for the morning, we were wrong. On our way back to camp we discovered Chipadzua, a 4 year old female leopard famous in the area, had made a kill during the night and had stashed it up a tree. Fortunately for us, she was escaping the late morning heat up in the shady branches.
That afternoon we were spoilt for choice and decided to head back to the Mwamba Kaingo Lion Pride, via Chipadzua. she hadn't moved far and after observing her for a few minutes, left her in peace and went on to the find the lions. We found them lazing on the beach, by the waters edge enjoying the cooling sand on their hot, full stomachs. As the temperature dropped with the setting sun, one by one, the lions began to drink. Giving us some wonderful photo opportunities in stunning golden light.
Day 4 and time to leave the beauty and serenity of Mwamba Bush Camp. We decided on a change of pace for this particular morning and made the 6km walk from Mwamba to Kaingo Camp, where we would spend the next 4 nights. The walk took the best part of 3 hours and we came across numerous elephants and giraffe and had a chance to pay attention to the smaller things one misses whilst on a vehicle chasing after lion and leopard.
That afternoon, we again spent some time with Chipadzua who had now come down from the safety of the tree tops and was resting close to the road. We spend some time with her and then decided we would go and find a spot on the river for our sundowner drinks. Chipadzua clearly had the same idea as we did and also made her way to the same spot to quench her thirst before moving off into the night. Driving along the river after dark back to camp, we were treated to a very special surprise. A Pel's Fishing Owl was perched upon a log in the river. A special sighing for any keen birder.
The morning started with a bang as we came across 2 female lion with 4 young cubs, around 3-4 months old. After watching the cubs for a few minutes, the parents decided it was time to move, leading the cubs further inland, a more sheltered and safer spot than where they currently were. As they moved, the cubs delighted with with their playfulness, playing with each other and jumping in and over fallen logs and trees. We followed them as long as the terrain would allow before watching them disappear into the thickets.
We decided it would be rude not to check up on our favourite leopardess and made our way back to where Chipadzua had stashed her kill. She hadn't moved far during the night and after a while of sitting with her, she made her way back up the tree to avoid the heat.
We left camp early and made our way to Shenton Safaris famous Hippo hide. Enjoying the low and unique angle the hide offers photographers. After enjoying a hour or so with the hippo and our afternoon tea and cake. We made our way back to Chipadzua. She had left the tree and we could not see her under any of the near by bushes. We heard baboons and impala alarm calling and it was clear that she was making her way down to the river to drink. Seeing as she was heading to the same drinking spot as the night before, we took a change and positioned ourselves at the waters edge with the sun setting behind us. Fortunately we were on the same page as no sooner had we parked up. She appeared out of the gully and began drinking right in front of us.
Carmine Bee Eaters flock to the area in great numbers to breed in huge colonies along the banks of the Luangwa River. The good people at Shenton Safaris take full advantage of this and have constructed a hide, giving you the chance to get up close and personal with these beautiful birds. As well as the ability to take some great photographs.
After a good hour or so in the hide, we made our way back in the direction of Mwamba Bush Camp. The staff there had radioed to say they have seen Lion very close to camp. The two boys we saw a few days earlier had now caught up with one of their brothers and were chilling out very close to camp. We stayed with them for a while before the promise of brunch and a cold drink called us back to Kaingo.
The Mwamba Kaingo pride had taken up residence on their favourite beach spot and were now joined by the two "punk" males, who reign over the pride and the territory. It was a fascinating evening watching the Lion and elephants trying to avoid one another as each battled for a drinking spot.
The hippo close by were also getting quite agitated with each other, as is common this time of year due to the lack of water and prime real estate in the river.
Our last full day in The South Luangwa and it didn't disappoint. We headed South, down stream for a change of scenery and came across a female leopard who like chipadzua had killed an impala. That is where the similarities between the two leopard ended. This female was very skittish and did not appreciate our presence, so we gave her her space and moved on. Seeing lots of general game along the way.
Our final afternoon gave us a special treat in the form of "Kaingo Boy", A beautiful male leopard that occupies the area immediately around camp. He was resting in the branches of a Natal Mahogany when we found him. Before long he come down and moved in to a more open area once the heat of the day began to subside. He eventually moved off into the thickets where we could no longer follow. We moved off and it wasn't long before we came across Chipadzua lazing on a sand bank in the middle of the Luangwa River.